Why Disney Turned Down The Opportunity To Make Back To The Future

It's hard to look back on classics like "Back to the Future" and ever imagine someone saying, "Nah, that won't ever work." That's just the way Hollywood goes sometimes, though. For every glowing and golden success story, there's also a rejection in its shadow. 

Some projects, like "Back to the Future," offer bigger regrets for being passed over than others. If you're the person who said "no" to what some consider to be the best sci-fi movie of all time, that's got to hurt. 

The film was rejected over 40 times, according to its co-screenwriter, Bob Gale. But, hey, we all have lapses in judgment, even multimedia behemoths like Disney. They were one of the studios that took a look at the script for "Back to the Future" and gave it a hard pass. Their reasoning, however, had nothing to do with its complicated time travel plots

Instead, the studio had a much simpler hang-up about why it wasn't a good fit for them. 

Disney Thought it was Scandalous

"Back to the Future" is considered today to be one of the more family-friendly films to come out of the 1980s, especially considering many of them probably wouldn't get greenlit today without being too controversial. But Disney didn't see it that way when the pitch for the film came their way. And, well, we kind of can't blame them for this one. 

One of the major plot points of the film has Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) trying to ensure that his time travel back to 1955 doesn't mess up his parents falling in love in high school, and, subsequently, his birth. However, Marty ends up catching his teenaged mom, Lorraine's (Lea Thompson) eye after her dad, his grandfather, accidentally hits him with the car instead of his would-be dad, George (Crispin Glover). At a later point in the movie, at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance, she kisses him. 

Screenwriter Bob Gale explained in an interview to CNN:

"We went in to meet with an executive and he says, 'Are you guys nuts? Are you insane? We can't make a movie like this. You've got the kid and the mother in his car! It's incest. This is Disney. It's too dirty for us!'"

The irony was that other studios thought the film was too innocent for them. 

"'There's a lot of sweetness to this. It's too nice, we want something raunchier like 'Porky's,'" Bob Gale said, summarizing different studios' reactions to his script. These were the same executives who would then suggest he and co-writer Robert Zemeckis take the film to, who else? Disney.

Fortunately, Steven Spielberg became interested in the film, and the rest was movie history, with "Back to the Future" finding its permanent home under the executive producer at Universal Studios.

What the Future Holds

Now, "Back to the Future" is one of those movies that many look back on with fond nostalgia. The film garnered two hugely successful sequels, an animated series, and even a theme park attraction, making it a bona fide franchise. In 2020, it was adapted for the stage as a musical and debuted in London. More than anything, perhaps, it's had a major influence on pop culture. The most obvious and current example would be the direct parody of its concept, Adult Swim's "Rick and Morty." Christopher Lloyd even embraced his role as the obvious inspiration for Rick in a series of live-action promos for the show. 

There are always conversations about more "Back to the Future" films. Actor Tom Holland even weighed in as vaguely as possible about the franchise after fans started sharing a deepfake video on social media with Holland as Marty and Robert Downey, Jr. as Doc Brown. However, the "Spider-Man" actor shut the idea down in an interview with BBC Radio 1, calling "Back to the Future," "one of the most perfect films, one that could never be made better." 

That sentiment was further cemented by co-screenwriter and director Robert Zemeckis, who told The Telegraph in 2015 that he and Gale maintain rights to the film, and there wouldn't be another "Back to the Future" so long as he was alive. "That can't happen until both Bob [Gale] and I are dead," he said, bluntly. "And then I'm sure they'll do it, unless there's a way our estates can stop it." 

If you're missing Marty, Doc, and Lorraine, "Frozen" actor Josh Gad has you covered. He hosted Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson on his "Reunited Apart" web series to discuss the legacy of the film in May of 2020 for a healthy fix of connection and warmth during the early days of the pandemic. 

If that's not enough, perhaps someone could crowd-fund the creation of a time-travel device that shifts us to a timeline of endless "Back to the Future" sequels.